Propaganda through times

Propaganda has a Reputation problem. It has been blessed by the Pope, it has been public service and the object of respected career. But it gained a negative connotation.

Nowadays, it has a bad reputation. In the past, however, it has had the blessing of the Pope. It has worked in the service of the public good and it has been the subject of many a respectable career. Yet somewhere along the way, it took a negative connotation.


The first known use of propaganda goes back to the Behistun Inscription in Persia in 515 B.C..

There have also been reports of the use of its techniques in India, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.

The term itself was coined much later. It was in 1622 that Pope Gregory created the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide.

It was known simply as “Propaganda” and was responsible for the missionary work of the church in the new worlds.

Meanwhile, on the old continent, ambassadors, writers and politicians hailed the virtues and deeds of their kingdoms.

The first “Soundbites” and “keywords” were already in use long before their English names became commonplace in the media. These were the first tools of Propaganda, but the name, born within the Catholic Church, has never been

With the emergence and spread of the Gutenberg Press Propaganda gained a new tool that allowed for the industrialization of the dissemination of information. Martin Luther was one of the first to make use of this instrument during the Reformation.



The raising of public awareness became a decisive feature in historic moments such as during the French Revolution, the independence of the USA or the abolition of slavery.

The more literate and politically active a society is, the more necessary Propaganda has become in order to “control” the means of mass communication and to shape public opinion. 



However, the word “Propaganda” only became commonplace during the first World War and at the hand of the British.

In order to increase the efficiency of an official armed forces recruitment effort, the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, ordered a campaign that demonised the enemy.

It was a success. Thousands of young people volunteered to die in the trenches against the “demoniac enemy.”

Propaganda had now, officially, become a political instrument for manipulating the masses. That was when the word began to take on a negative connotation for the first time.

So negative that, just a few years later in the Second World War, the allied democracies would avoid using the word.

The propaganda services of the different allied countries were renamed as Public Relations Offices, upon the recommendation of the very experts in Propaganda. Pardon, Public Relations.

Authoritarian governments are more tolerant of the therm. Propaganda can be used to refer not only to the government ministry but also the role of the minister. Communication is vertical and totalitarian. Citizens are swayed, or they aren’t listened to.

Was has separated semantics but not the meaning. Both sides have used Communication either to demonise the enemy or to change civilian behaviour.

In Portugal, what has come down to us regarding the “Estado novo” (“New State”) is due to Propaganda. It is propaganda that marked its ideological, social, historical and cultural agenda. Even the brand, “Estado Novo”, was born from the pen of propagandist.

In Brazil, the military dictatorship (1964 to 1985) chose the Slogan “Brazil: love it or leave it”.

Propaganda found a fertile landscape during the Cold War. Both the USA and USSR were prodigious in trying to praise themselves whilst attacking the enemy.

Following 9/11, the issue of propaganda once again came up for serious debate in the USA. The American “Shared Values” campaign sought to show Muslims around the world a different image of the country.

Even today, Propaganda continues to imbue our lives, whether by the way of television, the press or social networks. And if there are countries, like North Korea, where propaganda continues to be obvious, in democracies it is far more covert.

The promiscuous relationship between Propaganda and Journalism serves a fatal blow to impartiality and rigour. But there is also another type of Propaganda that has regained a more positive connotation.

We’re talking about institutional campaign aimed at shaping public opinion regarding social issues. These include the call for electoral participation, as well as support for social institutions and causes.

Although the essence and the techniques of Propaganda are still very much alive today, term is only used in democratic countries today with a negative connotation.

It has even been disavowed by its creators.  In 1988, Pope John Ii abolished the controversial Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide. And thus was born the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

It is housed, however, in the very same building, on the very same Via di Propaganda (Rome).